Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Samuel Peters was elected to the House from a district located in northwestern Louisiana as depicted in this 1876 map. Peters died before the start of his term and never served.
On this date, Samuel Peters was elected to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from the Fourth District of Louisiana. Peters was the first Black candidate to win election to Congress from Louisiana. Born in Ohio in 1835, Peters was one of the first Black Americans to attend Liber College in Jay County, Indiana. By 1863 he was a schoolteacher in Dayton, Ohio, where he worked as the principal of a school for Black students. In 1867, Peters was part of a group of Black voters in Dayton who were forcefully turned away at the polls when trying to cast their ballots. In January 1871, he moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, when he was appointed cashier of the local branch of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, also known as the Freedman’s Bank, which had been chartered by Congress to provide financial services to the millions of formerly enslaved people throughout the South. He was one of the first Black cashiers in the nation. In March 1872, P.B.S. Pinchback
, the state’s acting governor and Louisiana’s first African-American chief executive, appointed him division superintendent of education. At one point Peters reportedly feared for his safety and considered returning to Ohio, but by June the Louisiana Republican Party nominated him for a seat in Congress representing the Fourth District, located in the northwest corner of the state. He was elected on November 5 with 64 percent of the vote. His victory occurred amid a turbulent year in Louisiana—two competing candidates laid claim to the governor’s office and the state endured months of violent confrontations between Democrats and Republicans. Because Congress at the time convened in December of the year following an election—a full 13 months after most Members were elected—Peters remained at the Freedman’s Bank branch in Shreveport waiting for the 43rd Congress
(1873–1875) to commence. But in September 1873, an outbreak of yellow fever devastated Shreveport, closing businesses and causing more than 400 deaths. Peters contracted the disease and died following a short illness. Because he died two months before the 43rd Congress convened on December 1, 1873, Peters was never sworn in. Louisiana held a special election on November 24 to fill Peters’s vacancy in the Fourth District, which was won by Republican George Luke Smith
. Had he lived, Peters would have been the first Black Member of Congress from Louisiana. Two years later, Charles E. Nash
was elected from Louisiana’s Sixth District, becoming the first African-American lawmaker to represent the state at the start of the 44th Congress